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An Ohio Yankee in The Great White North

Julie Donner Andersen

having been born and raised in Ohio (for my not-so-educated Canadian friends, that's in the USA), I am a "red, white, and blue"-blooded Midwesterner. My childhood memories include Fourth of July fireworks, blue ribbon county fairs, and school closings on "snow days" or dead presidents' birthdays. Thanksgiving was in November, and was deeply rooted in my country's respected traditions of pigging out on sweet potatoes smothered in marshmallows, stuffing our patriotic faces until our pants exploded, and then cheering our favorite football team on to victory until all the pumpkin pie was gone.

Hockey was "that nasty, violent sport played by sweaty Frenchmen" only reserved for Ivy League universities, spoiled California brats from wealthy suburbs, and remote pay-per-view cable TV stations nobody ever watched.

And beer was a beverage, not a food group, national pastime, or a staple for which you waited in long lines for hours to purchase just in case of a blackout.

The only Canadian I ever knew was my childhood best friend's Aunt Renee (or "Ren-eh?" as we teasingly referred to her), who, while visiting our fair state, called us "Yankees", doled out chocolate "moose droppings" (which we never ate, for obvious reasons), and smuggled cheap hooch and cigarettes back to her homeland in the trunk of her boxy Audi. My best friend and I tried to stifle our giggles every time Aunt Renee ended her sentences with an up-spoken "eh?" since that word, in our American childhood experience, was reserved for hearing impaired elderly folk who held cornucopia-like horns to their ears.

In 1998, I met a wonderful Canadian man. We spent a year e-mailing, phone calling, and driving back and forth between our two countries for weekend visits before deciding to marry. After researching immigration information in both countries, we made a joint decision that it would be easier for me to move to Canada than for my fiancé to settle in America. God had flexed his humor muscle, and I was about to put my life in the hands of Air Canada to go forth and assimilate into a whole new culture.

My Yankee friends threw me a going-away party, with gifts such as a goose down parka ("It's for the yearlong winter, since you'll never see the sun again!"), a French-English conversion dictionary ("How will you get along? I mean, does anyone speak English up there?"), and a few dozen videos of my favorite movies ("What do they DO up there besides race sled dogs and go ice fishing? You'll be bored to tears!").

So it came to pass that I became a Canuck by way of marriage to an Ontario "lifer". Mind you, I was a little "culture shocked" at first when, at our wedding reception, the entire bridal party and several dozen guests took hour-long turns with the microphone and then expected parting gifts.

But I quickly learned that morphing into a Canadian meant I had to kiss my Yankee pride goodbye and embrace a new and different way of life.

I had to get used to people tapping me on the shoulder and saying, "So, you're from The States, eh?" followed by "I just love your accent!" (MY accent?!), "Can I see your gun?" (It's a well known fact that even American toddlers carry Second Amendment-condoned concealed weapons in their diapers), or "Do you know my Yankee friend, Elmer Noodle? He's from The South, too" (Ohio is The South?).

I had to remember to brake for pedestrians, especially those who would rather get hit by a bus than give up their God-given right to travel on foot from parking lot to supermarket doorway without looking in either direction before crossing.

I had to stop picturing Barney Fife and giggling when humorless border patrol guards demanded to know if I was transporting dangerous, illegal contraband - such as Florida orange trees - in the trunk of my compact car.

I have learned, out of necessity, to read Chinese symbols when shopping in Toronto, add the letter "u" to any word that rhymes with "savor" when writing a note to my kids' teachers, and calculate English to metric/Imperial before I got arrested for speeding at 120 mph.

I had to keep from losing my mind when our real estate agent found us an average suburban house "for a steal" at $300K, when my weekly grocery bill totalled more than a year's tuition at Harvard, or when the total GST and PST of all my annual purchases amounted to a little more than Bill Gates' annual salary.

I had to stifle a gag when someone either dumped bland gravy, spongy bean curds, and stinky vinegar on my French fries, attempted to convert my taste buds from Budweiser to Molson, or tried to reassure me that butter tarts had flavor.

I had to convince myself that milk in bags and air-exposed cuts of fly-covered meat hanging in flea market tents were not health hazards.

I had to swallow the fact that doctors of specialized medicine would continue to hang up on me and scream "Where do you think you are, lady the U.S.?!" when I tried to make appointments for myself without a GP's referral.

I had to buy an orthopedic back supporter just to lug my Loonie-and-Toonie-laden purse, and to refrain from regarding my colourful Canadian bills as useless as Monopoly money.

I had to inform my Yankee pals to mail their Christmas cards to me in June so I would get them on time for the holiday.

I had to acquire a taste for the sound of cat-throttling bagpipe music, and I had to resist the urge to pray for a sharp wind whenever skirted men with hairy legs played them in parades.

I had to figure out why my new Canadian friends would rather complain endlessly about taxes and crooked politicians, yet never demonstrate anything but apathy when push came to shove time at the polls, only allowing their true patriotism to be piqued when a certain "the beaver is a noble animal" beer commercial aired.

I had to find the answer to the question, "Why don't the local Keystone Kops bother with you if your car has been stolen, but are Johnnies-On-The-Spot to ticket your vehicle when it's parked in front of your own house overnight, or when someone lights up a smoke within 10 miles of a government building?"

I had to get over my angst about local politicians who a.) spend tens of thousands of my hard-earned tax dollars on surveys, the results of which never amount to action anyway, b.) who give themselves annual raises in quadruple digits, and c.) who hold secret meetings and avoid the media whenever it's decision-making time about choosing Fiji or Aruba for their next seminar jaunty.

I've learned to stow my anger whenever I read a newspaper story about "boat people" being set up in Ramada Inns and allowed instant citizenship by the "just" Department of Immigration when it took me three years and almost $5,000 to become a landed immigrant. (Can you say "red tape"? I should have allowed my husband to just drop me from a chopper in the middle of Parry Sound. It would have been cheaper and less time consuming.)

Now that I have adjusted to life in Canada, people ask me if I miss the good ol' U.S.A. I've learned to appease the masses by responding, "Some things are universal, so what's to miss?" After all, being able to laugh at one's self and one's country was a necessity as a Yankee.

This wisdom has served me well among my wonderfully laid back new neighbors (or "neighbours") in The Great White North who relentlessly tease me about my homeland's superiority complex. I counter-tease with diatribes about how the black fly should be named the national bird of Canada, and how Tim Horton's should start 12-step recovery programs for its Canadian addicts.

Copyright 2003 Julie Donner Andersen. All rights reserved. Reprints only by express written permission of author.

Julie Donner Andersen is the author of the upcoming illustrated humor book Parentally Insane: Insights From The Edge of Midlife and PAST: Perfect! PRESENT: Tense! Insights From One Woman's Journey As The Wife of a Widower (Writers Club Press, Inc.)

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